International food and restaurant consultants Baum+Whiteman see a few growing threats which could signal rough going for restaurants in 2017 like delivery-only food startups, boarding house dinners in people’s homes, suppliers opening their own restaurants, and meal kits. But the are several areas where the industry is striking back. Here are their annual hospitality predictions:
1. Why falling food prices are killing restaurants
It is counter-intuitive. Wholesale prices of meat, chicken, eggs and other essential commodities have plummeted – so that sounds like a good thing, right? But restaurants, and chain restaurants in particular, have been closing units left and right, or actually going bankrupt.
One reason: is that highly competitive supermarkets are passing savings to customers in the form of cheaper prices, even though their margins are paltry in the best of times. But restaurants, by and large, are hiking prices as they grapple with rising rents and wages, increasing health care costs, parental leave and other mandates. Supermarkets benefit by employing far less labor per dollar of sales than do restaurants – and consumers, acutely aware of the widening cost gap between eating out and eating home, are shifting behavior.
By September, a market basket of supermarket food fell more than 8 percent. But in urban areas especially, where crazy rents are chewing into profits, we’re seeing lunch checks piercing the $8-$10 ceiling, so the total gap could be as wide as 10%-12%. That’s why you see more brown bagging at lunch and more dinner at home.
It gets worse. More people work from home and shop from home, so they’re not out and about having business meals or snacking at the drive-thru. USDA predicts a further 10% drop in beef and pork over the next decade. This all hurts farmers, ranchers and food stores since they must continue cutting prices … but it is a killer for restaurants. Even go-go fast-casual chains currently face declining traffic.
The big danger? If food prices continue falling, restaurants will be compelled to lower menu prices precisely as cost spiral upwards. This year alone, more than a dozen restaurant chains went Chapter 11 or Chapter 7 and lots are on the edge.
1A. Too hot to fail?
While most restaurants are under stress, upscale-casual restaurants with pretensions of gastronomy and good PR agents are living in an alternate universe – with seemingly endless access to investment money, seemingly endless lines despite high (and climbing) prices, and seemingly endless adoration from battalions of bloggers. They continue opening because they are the beneficiaries the U.S. economy’s well-educated high earners who own little (no mortgages, no car payments, few familial responsibilities) and are blessed with good discretionary income. One wonders whether these restaurants are too hot to fail?
2. Restaurants without seats; Seats without restaurants
In 2015 we highlighted the “uberization” of food delivery, with Amazon, Google, Uber, Postmates, etc. all scratching for a place at your dinner table. For 2017, we’re spotlighting “Virtual Restaurants” … a different way our sharing economy is upending traditional restaurant thinking by allowing American couch potatoes to wallow in mass personalization without concern for the weather.
- Indie startups and even chain restaurants are creating “delivery hubs” which are commercial kitchens in offbeat, low-rent locations staffed by professional cooks. With no seats, their sole purpose is efficient meal delivery to people’s homes. They are low-investment restaurants without dining rooms. You find companies as diverse at Panera Bread (which thinks there’s a billion dollars just in catering), Momofuko’s David Chang with two delivery-only brands in New York, Maple and Ando, Munchery, delivering ready to-heat meals from central kitchens in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and New York with a corporate program for office workers hunched over their computers. Spaghetti maven Michael White is teaming with UberEats for a delivery-only brand called Pasta on Demand. Green Summit in NYC has phantom restaurants, an online only stable of eight bogus brands with specialty menus, each with its own website, and two kitchens feeding Manhattan and part of Brooklyn.
- Meanwhile e-startups around the country are assembling networks of home cooks to prepare meals and deliver them to other people’s dining rooms. So here we have seats without restaurants – home cooks post their menus and customers use various apps to search, order and pay, after which food is delivered or picked up. Among them: Yuma in Montreal, and Umi Kitchen with Danny Meyer’s daughter and Danny as an angel. They’re not alone: ChefKiss is signing on local chefs in Tempe and Scottsdale. Trybe is a London delivery platform for home cooks to prepare meals for hungry locals in their area. Foodieshares has been doing it in LA. Most flirt with legal prohibitions about selling food from home kitchens, but none is large enough to bother local health departments – yet.
- Another group of startups took note when AirBNB began taking reservations for dinners in home cooks’ dining rooms – a corporatization of an earlier underground restaurant trend – and began launching similar apps connecting adventurous eaters with “boarding house” dinners and pop-up feasts in secret locations. There’s VizEat in Italy, France, Spain, UK and Portugal aimed at visitors to a city who’d rather not fall into standard tourist traps. And Feastly in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
- Meal kits represent a growing (albeit still small) example of restaurants-without-seats business. Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated, Chef’d and purely local outfits … plus online grocers and even some restaurants … plus consumer brands like Campbell’s …think there’s a bonanza in ready-to-prep meals-in-a-box at prices that rival costs for eating out.
- Don’t forget drones. There is lots of experimenting going on including Google-Chipotle at Virginia tech, Domino’s pizza drone in New Zealand, 7-Eleven slurpees and sandwiches in Reno, Amazon and the UK testing the feasibility of drone delivery.
A couple-of-billion venture capital dollars have flowed into food delivery businesses, even as the field gets crowded and failures multiply. Eventually there’ll be consolidation or, more importantly, they’ll be gobbled up my big-gorilla tech companies and integrated into reservations apps – also a field getting overcrowded.
3. Cauliflower marches on (an extended analysis)
Vegetables in 2017 will extend their domination of the dinner plate, shoving animal protein to the edges or off the plate altogether. You can gauge the growing impact of veg-centric dining when you discover a steakhouse scrapping “sides” and moving vegetables to the middle of the menu, sometimes within an integrated category called “starters and sides.”
We’re seeing a surge of serious chefs tilting their menus toward vegetables, but equally significant, is the commotion among fast-casual chains. Ever since Sweetgreen proved that people would line up for vegetables at all hours, there’s been a stampede to open vegetable-forward concepts. They’re all doing the 1-2-3 dance – starting with a choice of bread, salad or bowl; increasingly grain and vegetable bowls get the nod over breads.
The owner of Pain Quotidien last year opened Le Botaniste, an organic vegetable -based fast casual restaurant with an emphasis on bowls. And Pret a Manger recently made permanent its 40-item Veggie Pret popup experiment in London, with plans for expansion.
3A. Two events of recent import
- Following earlier investments by techsavvy heavyweights, Tyson Foods, the US’s largest meat processor, has taken a 5 percent interest in Beyond Meat, a company that’s been drumming up its plant-based hamburger that appears to bleed. A competitor, Impossible Foods, bets heavily on plant-based burgers that also bleed, and harvests gobs of Silicon Valley money, too
- Around the same time, a star-studded panel of global investors fired off letters to Tyson and other meat users — Kraft Heinz, Nestle, Unilever, Tesco and Walmart, General Mills, Mondelez, Costco, Kroger – urging them acknowledge the “material” risks of industrial farming and to diversify into plant-based sources of protein. They called meat a “recipe for a financial, social and environmental crisis.”
It is no secret that Americans are eating less meat (26% of consumers said so last year), that vegetarian/flexitarian diets going mainstream, and that vegans increasingly are gaining respect.
So here’s a fascinating dilemma: Consumers are demanding that Big Food companies toss away their chemistry sets and provide more transparency. They want clean labels using fewer ingredients, little or no processed food, pasture-raised meat, free-range chicken, traceability of food back to (if possible) a single animal, no additives, no chemicals, no “artificial” preservatives, etc. But the ingredient list in one bleeding plant-based hamburger looks like this: pea protein isolate, expeller pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, water, yeast extract, maltodextrin, natural flavors, gum arabic, sunflower oil, salt, succinic acid, acetic acid, non-GMO modified food starch, cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, potato starch, beet juice extract (for color), ascorbic acid (to maintain color), annatto extract (for color), citrus fruit extract (to maintain quality), vegetable glycerin.
Beyond Burger sold out after being placed next to real meat in a Boulder Whole Foods, and Impossible Burger is now on menus of three influential San Francisco chefs: Chris Cosentino, Tal Ronnen and Traci Des Jardins, who has it as the only burger at Jardiniere. But can you picture the uproar if any of these ingredients showed up in a McDonald’s patty? This suggests that consumers are of at least two minds about such things.
Excellent veg-centric sitdown restaurants using real food are packing them in. Ladybird in New York has a vegetable charcuterie plate of smoked carrot, cured beet, mushroom pate, beet chorizo, cultured cheese and fig compote.
Nix, a recent arrival in New York, run by chef John Fraser and James Truman, former editorial director of Conde Nast, has both vegetarian and vegan menus. You revel in umami-spiked dishes so artfully composed that you immediately forget there’s no animal protein – shiitake “cacio e pepe” with green beans and creamy polenta; cauliflower tempura with steamed buns and house pickles; jerk-spiced watermelon (photo, above); baby carrots en papillote with cracked bulgur, almonds and moroccan spices.
3B. Don’t stand near the carrots, Momma, the grocer’s got a cleaver!
Meanwhile, as faux food makes inroads into people’s kitchens and onto restaurant menus, avant gardists are opening vegetable “butcher shops.” There’s the Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, YamChops in Toronto, The Vegetable Butcher in The Hague, La Carnicera Vegetariana in Barcelona, and Suzy Spoon’s Vegetarian Butcher in Sydney. These “butchers” are fabricating faux food, imitation but lookalike burgers, sausages, meatballs, salami, turkey, roast beef – even fake ribs for bbq-obsessed vegans – with meat cases organized similarly to what you’d find at a good supermarket. Needless to say, this makes traditional butchers irate (see Trend #4, next which we will post tomorrow).
Update: Want to learn more about what’s trending for next year? See two more post now live at: Hottest F&B trends in restaurant and hotel dining for 2017: Part 2 and Hottest F&B trends in restaurant and hotel dining for 2017: Part 3.
About the source
Baum+Whiteman creates high-profile restaurants around the world for hotels, restaurant companies, museums and other consumer destinations. Based in New York, their projects include the late Windows on the World and the magical Rainbow Room, and the world’s first food courts. They also run F&B trends seminars for major hotel and restaurant companies. They currently are working in Dubai, New York and Florida. Contact: Michael Whiteman 718 622 0200 [email protected].